Not many people are born with the gift of talent, and even fewer have the desire to hone that talent into a beautiful craft. Such is the case in Leslie Ann Bradley, one of the finest symphonic and operatic singers in today’s world. Believe it or not, Leslie Ann was born and raised in our very own, Port Perry.
To be totally accurate, although born in Port Perry Hospital, Leslie Ann spent the first four years of her life in Sunderland, until her father, a farmer, became a salesperson for John Deere and her mother, Jillian, opened a clothing store called Country Classics, on Queen Street in Port Perry, where they settled.
Attending R.H. Cornish Public School, music began to play an important role in Leslie Ann’s life. “My grandmother was very influential in my love of music,” Leslie Ann explained. “She played the piano and we all sang together.” It sounds wonderful, and Grandmother Betty Stone still tinkles the ivories today.
Leslie Ann also had a knack for business and with her sister, Betty Jo, she sold homemade jam in front of her mother’s store. Of course, she also helped pick the berries that went into the product. Her love of music constantly resurfaced.
At age five, Leslie Ann used to attend choir practice, even though she was not actually a member, and quietly sang hymns along with the choir.
At age eight, she took a serious step to enhance her music career. Under the direction of vocal teacher, Eleanor Bailey, Leslie Ann developed an already beautiful voice. During high school, her love of music blossomed, and her gratitude to teacher Charles White is unending. Charles White was head of the music department at Port Perry High School for many years.
“I chose two periods of music per day and then added a third,” Leslie Ann explained. “My teachers wondered if perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew,” but she hadn’t, because she could never get enough of singing.
I asked what she loved about her craft. “It’s a constant exploration, because you never know enough about music.”
Leslie Ann also played the flute, as well as the piano. “I was awful on the flute, unlike my sister who makes it sound magical,” she said, smiling.
One fantastic benefit to living in Port Perry is the immense support for music and art, as visible by our theatre groups. Leslie Ann joined the Scugog Choral Society, and her first role was that of Ngana in South Pacific. Some of her musical talent comes from her mother, who was also in the Choral Society and brought the house down with her role as Maria Von Trapp in the Sound of Music in 1987.
During high school, Leslie Ann worked at Brock’s Department Store in Port Perry. She started in ladies wear and worked with Claudette Brock, spending hours and hours in the storage areas finding and pricing shoes, etc. for the yard sales.
After high school, Leslie Ann attended the University of Toronto, specializing in a four year music and language course. Her French is excellent and her musical talents were once again taken to the next level. During weekends she would return to Port Perry and teach vocals to students at home, including well known Mallory McGrath.
Another person who was very instrumental in Leslie Ann’s life was Bev Foster. Leslie would accompany Bev to Toronto, to participate in the Orpheus Choir as the only paid soprano soloist they had.
After graduation from university, Leslie Ann moved to Montreal for seven years. During that time, she also lived in France where she trained at the famous Ravel Academy. Leslie enjoys the European influence so common in Montreal, and not found elsewhere in North America.
Having sang in many top venues in North America, I asked Leslie Ann what her favourite location was. “The one that makes me the most nervous is performing in my home town. When I stand in front of the hundreds of people and all I see are teeth; big, welcoming smiles. It makes me very emotional.”
In 2009, Leslie Ann moved back to Toronto and studied under Lorna MacDonald, who helped her polish her musical ability. She attended a wedding and met Edward Graham, who lived in New York. It wasn’t long before Leslie moved to New York, and now lives there with her husband Edward.
Leslie Ann specializes in symphonic and operatic music. The difference is, in operas the performers wear wigs and make-up, whereas in symphonic productions, they do not. She has a love of musical theatre as well as classical.
She has played venues all over North America, including Vancouver, Montreal and New Orleans, where she met Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimor. After Lattimor’s performance, Leslie Ann asked if she would take her on as a student. The great performer agreed, and Leslie Ann’s ability was sharpened even more.
The future for Leslie Ann Bradley is, to keep exploring and continue the adventure. “I think the United States is my next big challenge,” Leslie explained. She has performed at numerous venues throughout the U.S., but there are many left to conquer. After that, it will probably be Europe, but wherever this performer’s talent is heard, it has a lasting effect on the listener.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures, at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.